When I research (I do not, in fact, research—I look for interesting stuff to read on some general topic I’m thinking about), I use a process I invented for keeping track of my findings, from which I must not deviate if I am to find anything a second time. Before Google and EBSCO I did nothing resembling research (except my dissertation—but that’s from the Dark Ages). Those two modern marvels have made possible my looking for both information and others’ thinking about that information.
My process is quite simple, but I must follow it exactly. First, I think up five or six search terms that seem likely to uncover articles pertaining to whatever I’m thinking about. I use EBSCO’s Academic Search Complete from the SMU Central University Libraries online databases almost exclusively. I don’t search the way my favorite university librarian, Rebecca Graff, teaches my students, but they do as she says, not as I do.
After I’ve invented my search terms, I set up the search – the way I do it, I’m likely to get 25,000 hits, which Rebecca says (and anyone with any sense would agree) is way too many. But mine is an addictive personality, so if one is good, 25,000 must be better.
It’s fun to scroll through 25,000 hits. When I find one that looks interesting, I open it. If it looks promising, I save it to my desktop – if it’s a PDF file (I can’t cope with HTML files). Then I find the proper MLA citation, create a “sticky note” in the PDF file and copy the citation (because I’m lazy and don’t want to have to look it up again).
I create folders on my desktop for all the articles I find in one day. And I have a few folders for articles on topics I seem to return to again and again. Topics such as “self-discovery,” “anger,” “Palestine,” “gay studies,” “the Grotesque,” and “Abraham Lincoln.” This is the stuff of my thinking life. It is totally disorganized, without focus, and leading nowhere in particular. Much of it I don’t understand. The scientific and medical journal articles I find are useless, as are most articles on literature (I have read precious little in my life).
I’m not a student of philosophy or of sociology. I know quite a bit about Christian theology, but I’m by no means a theologian. Most articles about music I can plow through even if I don’t know the particular work(s) under discussion. The sad truth is I know a little about many things but not a great deal about any one thing. That does not make me a “Renaissance man” or even a dilettante, but merely a dabbler.
I jump unceremoniously and without the “connection” between ideas I insist my students make in their writing to a passage in an article I read yesterday.
The human brain is the most complex entity, for its size, that we know of in the universe, and for that reason we see it as a premiere expression of the central tendency toward complexification in our universe. We believe that explorations of the nature of our brain can help us better to understand “the ways things really are”—in our brain and in our world (1).
This is the sort of “academic” statement that loses me. The brain is the premiere expression of the central tendency toward complexification? The universe has a tendency to get more complex? Is that someone’s “principle?” You know, like the Bernoulli Principle, or the Coriolis Force, or the Doppler Effect?
It seems to me that brains function best when they simplify, not complexify (what a great word). I’m sure that’s not what A and A are talking about. I know that, when I go looking for articles on a certain subject, I must reduce the subject to four or five “key words,” and that, unless I am rigorous in keeping to an almost mindlessly simple process, I am likely to lose track of what I am doing. I dare not complexify.
In order to keep my brain from atrophying at my advanced age and/or to ward off the Alzheimer’s Disease that seems to run in my family, I decided to read some of those complex writings on which we base our thinking both about ourselves and about our living together in society.
One of the topics of reading and writing for my classes is the “Gettysburg Address” (Abraham Lincoln). I thought I might read John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government because so many sources I’ve found through EBSCO searches indicate it is the source of Thomas Jefferson’s statement that “all men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence), which is Lincoln’s opening rhetorical salvo. I learned as far back as high school history that the Enlightenment thinking on which our Constitution is based comes at least in part directly from John Locke.
I got only as far as Chapter II, Section 6, when I stumbled on Locke’s assertion that
. . . though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature . . . The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason . . . teaches all mankind . . . that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life. . . for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker. . . sent into the world by his order. . . they are his property. . . made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and . . . there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another. . . (2).
“Gee whiz,” I thought. This man whose thought had so much influence on our Constitution said no one has a right to “harm another in his life” because we’re all equal in our creation.
To my mind, in its inability to complexify, Locke means we have “not the liberty to destroy [ourselves], or so much as any creature.” My simplifying mind interprets that to mean, for example, that using a gun to shoot someone is antithetical to the basic thought that formed us as a people. For a simple reason: We’re all made by the same creator so we have no right to subordinate another and think we have a right to destroy him.
As I say, I can’t complexify. I can’t get my mind around all of the “yes buts” and other complexification I read from people like Wayne LaPierre. I’m a simple thinker. No right means no right.
(1) Ashbrook, James B., and Carol Rausch Albright. “The Humanizing Brain: An Introduction.” Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 34.1 (1999): 7.
(2) Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Project Gutenberg EBook. gutenberg.org. July 28, 2010. Web. 9 Jan. 2013.